Camera-Phone Photojournalism: Is Anybody Buying It?

When an electronics company first squeezed a lens into a mobile phone, people in the photography industry started asking questions. With just 110,000 pixels, Sharp’s J-SH04 didn’t look like much of a threat to professional photographers at the time, but it seemed inevitable that the quality of camera phones would rise as quickly as the quality of the phones themselves.

What will happen, we all asked, when everyone is walking around with a top quality, 10-megapixel camera in their pocket?

I’ve already written that there will always be a place for talent in the world of photography. I stand by that. But I can’t ignore the fact that paparazzi photographers, for example, would face stiff competition if members of the public could snap celebrities walking their dogs or falling out of nightclubs, and deliver images to the media that are as sharp as anything a professional could produce.

So far, it hasn’t happened.

Sure, Scoopt has been bought by GettyImages. That suggests that some people see a commercial future in phone photography. But that future isn’t here yet. After all, Scoopt only made its first sale about seven months ago, and that picture was said to have gone for an impressive two-figure sum. Since then, reports of other sales have been pretty sporadic.

So why haven’t camera phone photographers changed the face of spot and paparazzi photography?

The simple reason is that while mobile phones have advanced and proliferated, the quality of the cameras hasn’t risen at the same rate. The first 10-megapixel camera phone (a tool that can produce images at the minimum quality photo buyers would want) was only exhibited in fall 2006. At almost a thousand bucks, it’s hardly flying off the shelves and the rest of the industry doesn’t seem to be rushing in behind it.

Of course, just because camera phones haven’t killed off the paparazzi yet doesn’t mean it won’t ever happen. Quality will improve and prices will fall. We’ll keep watching, but for now we can conclude that it’s not happening as quickly as we all thought it would.

[tags]cameraphones, photojournalism, John Chapnick[/tags]

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